Lately when people ask, “How are you?” instead of responding with “good,” I say, “fortunate.” I thought about this. Just “good”, when either I am doing well or not, doesn’t truly represent my present state. I am though, fortunate. Fortunate to live where I do, to be in loving relationships, to have the health I have, to have access to such vast inner and outer resources. I am fortunate to have encountered such a teacher as the Venerable Geshe Sopa at Deer Park. In my recent book, I offer 11 core principles of the zero point agreement, one which is to rely on a qualified teacher. (The Venerable Geshe Sopa passed into clear light a week ago. I offer his introductory teachings as a gift to you.)
Whichever step of the staircase you enter upon, the journey will, in its own way and own time, lead you to all the other steps. The only requirement is that you continue to put one foot in front of the other—one thought, moment of interest, and effort after another. That is all teachers really require of their students. They have trust that the teachings will unfold their results naturally, if the student will only grasp the opportunity.–Geshe Lhundub Sopa with David Patt, Steps on the Path to Enlightenment
“The teacher’s role is to show the student the possibility of presence. The pointing-out instructions are the transmission: together the teacher and student create the conditions in which the student sees what the teacher is pointing to.” -Ken McLeod, Wake Up to Your Life
At one teaching I attended at Deer Park Buddhist Center, Geshe Sopa spoke on the importance of finding a skillful teacher. He emphasized “seeing the difference between a teacher that shows the inner path versus one that shows the outer path.” Mark the difference between these two types of teachings, he suggested. Ask yourself, is the inner path of discipline, meditation, and contemplation emphasized, or are the externals such as ritual, appearances, and traditions emphasized? Choose a teacher that focuses on the inner path, for this is the authentic teacher.
This is the third piece in the Venerable Geshe Lhundup Sopa’s introductory teachings, the “lessons before the lessons.” We are still on the verse taken from Nagarjuna, Letters to a Friend. This further speaks to the pitfalls and blessings of finding a good teacher.
” Whosoever was negligent previously
But later became attentive and careful,
Shines forth like the moon freed from clouds,
Just like Nanda, Angulimala, Ajustastru, and Udayana.”
—Nagarjuna, Letters to a Friend, Verse 14 (Leslie Kawanura)
Angulimala’s Freedom from Ignorance
This ancient story is an example of someone under the poisonous influence of ignorance or stupidity. At the time of the Buddha a teacher told his disciple Angulimala, “If you kill one thousand people you will attain emancipation.” This false teacher instructed Angulimala that, after killing each person, he should collect their fingers and add each to a rosary; Angulimala would go to the celestial abodes. Angulimala believed this false teacher and went on to kill 999 people before he met up with the Buddha.
Because of Angulimal’s ignorance, a teacher who wrongly advised him easily influenced him. In Angulimala’s ignorance, he became quite attached to the promise of the spiritual reward that he was guaranteed in response to his actions. Just so, he did not examine what someone else had instructed him to do. When Angulimala succeeded in killing 999 people, and had one more person to kill in order to fulfill his promise to his teacher (and to receive the spiritual reward), he went in search of his last victim. Because he had been going around killing so many, everyone had come to know him as this person going around killing everyone! Understandably, everyone escaped town or hid from him. Finally when he couldn’t find anyone to kill, he concentrated on finding and killing his mother!
However, instead of finding his mother, Angulimala met up with the Buddha, who had arrived with the intention of saving Angulimala from his actions and to save the mother as well. The Buddha began to walk like an elephant, non-hastily, about town. Everyone else, of course, was gone or hiding from Angulimala. When Angulimala came upon this person walking slowly he went after him to kill him, not realizing that he was the Buddha. However, no matter how fast Angulimala was, he couldn’t get any closer to his intended victim—the distance between them remained the same. Finally Angulimala decided to give up his pursuit for the time being.
Then, of course, the Buddha waited for him.
“Oh, so you want to kill me,” the Buddha said to Angulimala. “Well, you can kill me, but first you must listen to a few words I have to say.”
The Buddha gave him a special teaching on karma and what it really means to engage in a negative action such as killing. Contrary to what he had been told before by the false teacher Angulimala was shown how his actions would result in horrible future lives. As he listened to the Buddha’s teachings, he forgot about his desire to kill.
This was precisely the right time for Angulimala to hear the teachings and to begin to train his mind. As he continued to listen to the Buddha, he quickly became strongly motivated by what the Buddha had to say about karma and future lives. Angulimala wanted to hear more of the Buddha’s teachings and, as a result of his wish to listen to the teachings and then, as a result of actively receiving them, a desire to confess all of his past bad deeds arose in him. His genuine interest in the teachings (motivated by the desire for fortunate rebirth) and resultant confession purified all of his immense negative karma. In Angulimala’s case, he achieved realization in the same lifetime that he had encountered this spiritual friend and had committed to the spiritual path.
Thus so, you too can come to a time where you finally meet up with a true spiritual friend, receive instructions on karma, and become motivated by the certainty of future lives. Then, by realizing the causal effect of past negative actions, you may seek and find purification through confession.
Next lesson: The Four Powers of Confession
Click on book cover to order Geshe’s book from Wisdom Publications.
Click on book cover to order my book.
Thank you for reading and for sharing.
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